Ilhan Omar: Marijuana Must Be Legalized Nationwide to Fight Economic Inequality

Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar called on the federal government to take the lead in legalizing marijuana nationwide, warning that legal differences between states was exacerbating economic inequality.

The progressive Minnesota representative told BET that the federal government — which has long considered marijuana a medically unnecessary, illegal drug on par with heroin and cocaine — should strive to ensure consistency between states on the issue, according to the Star Tribune.

Omar said lawmakers in Washington should "not allow for the states to pick and choose" whether to legalize the substance. Eleven U.S. states—Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington—have thus far legalized marijuana for recreational use, as well as Washington, D.C. About half of the states have allowed for the medicinal use of cannabis.

Liberalization of recreational marijuana policy has rapidly spread since Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize and regulate the drug. Dozens more have legalized medicinal marijuana to some extent, though the specifics differ from state to state.

But until every state in the U.S. fully legalizes the substance for recreational use, Omar said some Americans will continue to suffer under unfair and punitive drug laws.

"What happens [without full legalization] is you will have a state where someone is publicly and professionally able to profit and the next state, someone could be sent to life [in prison] for it," Omar told BET.

"We want to make sure that there is equality in our laws," she added. "I don't think it is just for that kind of economy to exist within this policy."

Omar is among the House co-sponsors of legislation—the Marijuana Justice Act—to remove marijuana from a federal list of controlled substances. The bill would also erase past federal convictions for marijuana possession or use, convictions that undermine the efforts of many former prisoners to rehabilitate and secure jobs.

The legislation is supported in the Senate by a host of prominent lawmakers, including five Democratic presidential candidates—Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Eliabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Despite growing public support for marijuana legalization, Omar's bill has thus far failed to secure a hearing in either chamber of Congress. According to the Star Tribune, the proposed bill has struggled to attract the support of the Senate Republicans needed to push the reforms through.

Last week, Omar took to Twitter to lament the national disparity in marijuana laws. "While states continue to legalize cannabis, we must do the same on the federal level," she wrote.

"Let's pass the Marijuana Justice Act, legalize cannabis, and implement restorative justice for people whose lives have been decimated by the War on Drugs," she added.

Ilhan Omar, cannabis, marijuana, legalization
Ilhan Omar speaks at a rally in support of immigrants on May 16, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Tasos Katopodis/Getty